The Importance of Beta Readers
Before you publish, consider getting some feedback on your work.
Who are beta readers?
Beta readers are generally not professional editors; they are often people who read extensively in a given genre and know what the norms are for such books. Beta readers may be able to give insight into what your future readers are going to expect to see in a book, which can help you make editorial decisions before going to press.
What do beta readers do?
Beta readers read and provide feedback on manuscripts before they are published. Beta readers can help you identify areas of your book that are really working, as well as aspects that are confusing, unclear, or in need of more work. Depending on the author, the reader, and the book in question, a beta reader might provide broad feedback on the plot, give feedback about characters, read with an eye toward pointing out inconsistencies, or just give overall impressions. Beta readers do not take the place of working with an editor or having your manuscript copyedited. Instead, beta readers are about providing bigger-picture feedback on the book that you can use in your final rewrites of the manuscript.
How are beta readers beneficial?
A big benefit of using beta readers is being able to get honest feedback from people who are in the same communities and have the same interests as people who I hope will read my books once they are in print. Feedback from beta readers can be especially helpful for self-published authors who don’t have the benefit of a publisher to guide them in writing to market. Beta readers may be able to give feedback on how your book manuscript compares with other books in the genre, how they connect to the characters, any plot issues they notice, and anything else that is or isn’t working in the text. Beta readers can be useful for both fiction and nonfiction.
When to use beta readers
Many authors find it most effective to bring in beta readers once they have a finished manuscript, as opposed to earlier in the writing process, when the book is still coming together. But, because you’ll be using beta reader feedback to inform your edits, it’s best to work with beta readers before you have the manuscript copyedited.
The right number of beta readers to use is going to be a very personal decision based on an author’s writing style and preferences. With fewer beta readers, it can be difficult to determine if feedback is just one person’s opinion, and bringing in too many beta readers may result in a volume of feedback that might be overwhelming for an author or hard to incorporate. Personally, I find three to five beta readers to be the ideal number.
Finding the right beta reader
A good beta reader is someone who could be a reader for your book were it in print. The more experience you get with publishing, the more likely you are to have built up a fan base of readers connected to you online who may be willing to be beta readers on future books. Another option is to trade beta reading with other authors, especially authors who write in the same genres as you. In social media groups of readers and writers, you may be able to form connections and identify people potentially interested in beta reading.
Working with beta readers
When working with a beta reader it’s helpful to be clear about what kind of feedback you’re looking for, and what would be most useful to you. Some authors are looking just for overall impressions. Other authors want to know more specifically what is working and not working for a reader chapter by chapter. Some authors prefer beta readers to make notes in track changes, while others prefer to have a phone call or receive an email with bullet points.Communicate what feedback you’re seeking and how you’d like it delivered when you send the manuscript. It’s also helpful to be clear with your beta readers about what your timeline is and when you need to receive feedback for your publishing schedule.
The right number of beta readers to use is going to be a very personal decision based on an author’s writing style and preferences.
Wait until you get everyone’s feedback before going back into editing the manuscript. As you prepare to edit, read through all the feedback you have received from beta readers and identify areas where the feedback overlaps. If multiple beta readers are pointing out the same question or issue in your text, that is something you might want to look at when revising, as it could indicate something other readers might take issue with when the book is published.
You don’t have to incorporate every edit or piece of feedback received from beta readers if you disagree with it or don’t feel like it fits your book. However, try to be receptive, give it consideration, and avoid being defensive. Remember that they are trying to help you make your book the best it can be.
In general, people volunteer their time to become beta readers and are not paid for it. However, it is nice to do something to thank your beta readers. It is appropriate to thank your beta readers in the acknowledgments section of your book to show your appreciation. It’s also nice to send your beta readers a thank-you note and signed copy of the book when it is published.
Sassafras Lowrey writes fiction and nonfiction and was the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for emerging LGBTQ writers.